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I recently noticed something curious in Mark's gospel. In chapter 3, we read an account of Jesus' miraculous healing of a man's withered hand. It occurred on the Sabbath, and so the Pharisees were incensed. After the healing, we read that "the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus" (vs. 6).

I understand the motivation for why the Pharisees want Jesus removed from the scene. But from what I understand, the Herodians were a non-religious group that were politically connected with Rome and thus very pro-Herod (hence the name). Up to this point in Mark's gospel, Jesus' ministry has mostly been characterized by healings and other (supposedly non-political?) miracles. That's my observation, at least. What reasons might the Pharisees have given to the Herodians to enlist their help in plotting Jesus' downfall? Jesus just doesn't seem like much of a political threat to Rome at this point in his ministry.

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    Apart from Jesus' claim to have been the Christ or Messiah ?
    – Lucian
    Jun 3 at 15:15
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The Herodians supported King Herod Antipas, the Roman Empire’s ruler over much of the land of the Jews (from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39). It was politically expedient for them to work alongside Herod and, by so doing, to support Rome. This support of Herod compromised Jewish independence in the minds of the Pharisees, making it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything. But one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus.

The High Priest Caiaphas had already prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and the Pharisees were plotting to kill Jesus (John 11:49-53).

It wasn’t just the Pharisees who wanted Jesus dead – Herod also saw Jesus as a trouble-maker who was coming between him and his political ambitions:

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)

Both the Herodians and the Pharisees wanted Jesus out of the way because he was a threat to their power. That is why they came together to plot against Jesus (Mark 3:6). There is a good example of how they tried to trap Jesus when they asked him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not:

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians... But Jesus, knowing their evil intent said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:15-22).

Jesus warned his disciples to be careful of both the Pharisees and the Herodians:

‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod’ (Mark 8:15)

Yeast is a symbol of evil or corruption. Both the Pharisees and Herod Antipas challenged Jesus to give proof of his divine authority (Luke 22:66-71; 23:8-12)

Why would the Herodians want Jesus dead?

The Herodians looked to Herod as a messiah, a saviour of sorts who would put the Jews in favour with the Roman Empire and bring blessings to them. Jesus’ presentation of Himself as the Messiah was a threat to the Herodians' attempt to make Herod the influential political power in the land.

Historical information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodians

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  • Great answer to this subject matter!
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 3 at 16:40
  • Comprehensively excellent. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 4 at 1:00
  • Well said, upvoted +1 Jun 4 at 4:26
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Historical background

Herodians

The Herodian dynasty--Herod the Great and his descendants--were not strictly Jewish, they were Idumean, but tried to portray themselves as observant Jews--whether this was out of faith or purely a matter of politics is subject to speculation. In any event, Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great) was more effective than most of his kin in presenting himself as a faithful Jew.

As noted in other posts, the Herodians were Jews who were loyal to Herod and his family. The Herodians are regularly juxtaposed in the Gospels with the Pharisees, who detested the overlords appointed by Rome (even if those overlords observed Jewish customs).

Order of events in the Gospels

None of the Synoptic authors were trying to present their material in a strictly chronological fashion (no, not even Luke). The order of the pericopes (aka "stories") in the Gospels is a major point of debate in source criticism--I delve into it in my video here for this who find this sort of thing interesting.

In short, the fact that something is recorded in Mark chapter 3 does not by itself indicate it happened early in Jesus' ministry. Sometimes the material is organized by topic (this approach is a favorite of Matthew's); sometimes the material is organized by geography (Luke does this quite a bit). Some are bothered by this--I don't think it need be cause for concern. I've never been concerned that my encyclopedia is organized by topic rather than chronology--if it were it would make things harder to find.

So we don't know when exactly in His ministry Jesus became a target of the Herodians, but it is clear that they wanted to kill Jesus (e.g. Luke 13:31)

Why the Herodians didn't like Jesus

Let's consider a few of the principal drivers:

  1. Jesus was an ally of John the Baptist, who had condemned Herod Antipas

  2. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah--this angered Jews of most persuasions. He didn't fit the mold of what they expected the Messiah to be. Indeed, not only the Herodians, but the Pharisees & Sadducees as well were very put off at the idea of a Messiah who disagreed with them. They wanted a Messiah who would win their narrowly-focused power struggles for them. As noted by Lesley, some of the Herodians may have even considered Herod himself to be the Messiah.

  3. Jesus was a threat to their power--the idea that a man from Nazareth was more popular with the people than they were was deeply aggravating, and, as noted by Caiaphas in John 11:49-53, some (note--Caiaphas was not a Herodian!) saw Jesus' popularity as a threat to the political future of the Jewish nation.

The diabolical cunning of having Jesus put to death by Rome is described in my post here--this made the Pharisees & the Herodians unlikely friends. That the Pharisees & Herodians were willing to work together shows just how much they disliked Jesus--it's worth exploring just one of the traps they laid to see how the Herodians were operating.

Them taxes will kill you

In Matthew 22:15-21 we learn of a coordinated plot between the Pharisees and the Herodians to entrap Jesus by asking whether he approved of paying taxes to Rome.

Here's how the plot was designed to work:

  • If Jesus said yes, pay your taxes, the Pharisees could turn the people against Jesus (the people HATED Roman taxes), and either have Him stoned in a furious rage or, failing that, destroy His popularity and His following
  • If Jesus said no, don't pay your taxes, the Herodians could arrest him on the spot for treason. So potent was this threat that it was actually one of the (false) charges brought against Jesus when He was later arraigned before Pilate (see Luke 23:2).

But of course, Jesus outsmarted the trap. The following insight isn't original to me, but it's worth sharing. When Jesus told them to render that which is in Caesar's image to Caesar, and to render to God what is God's, the question is: what is it that is in God's image? You!

Conclusion

The Herodians didn't like the Pharisees, but they disliked Jesus even more. The actual charge that was used to eliminate Jesus was just detail--they just needed an excuse to execute a person they saw as a challenge to their religious views and a threat to their political power.

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Why would the Herodians want Jesus dead?

First of all, let us see what St. Mark says about this:

The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might put Him to death. - Mark 3:6, (NASB)

There is nothing more mysterious than a forensic biblical search into this subject matter.

Let us start with a little background. This is the first mention of the Herodians in the book of Mark. The Herods are a Jewish family who have received authority from the Roman occupiers to rule over Judea and Galilee. Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus shortly after His birth (Matthew 2:1–12). His kingdom was later split into four sections, and his son, Herod Antipas, rules over Galilee and nearby territories at the time of this story.

What is amazing thing about this verse is that both the Herodians and the Pharisees plot together to get rid of Jesus. But why?

In Matthew and Mark, Herod Antipas is ambivalent with regard to Jesus. Both gospels quote Herod Antipas as saying, after he has had John the Baptist executed, that Jesus is actually John resurrected (Matthew 14:1–2; Mark 6:14–16). Both gospels state that Antipas was actually saddened by Salome’s request to have John beheaded (Matthew 14:9; Mark 6:26), and they seem to blame Salome and her mother, Herodias, for John’s execution. Bound by his own oath, Antipas is nevertheless forced to fulfill his promise to Salome.

At the same time, however, we get the feeling in Matthew and Mark that Antipas is a shadow of death over Jesus. When Jesus hears that John has been killed, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place,” apparently fearful of Antipas (Matthew 14:13). In Mark 3:6, the Herodians counsel about how to kill Jesus, just as Jesus in Mark 8:15 warns against “the leaven of Herod.”

Luke’s account differs from Matthew’s and Mark’s by concentrating mostly on the trial of Jesus, for which Luke skillfully prepares his reader by references to Antipas along the way that build up an intense question in the reader’s mind: Is Antipas interested in Jesus or is he trying to kill him? (See Luke 3:19–20, 9:7–10, 13:31–33.) - Herod Antipas in the Bible and Beyond

Herod certainly feared for the control of his kingdom. After all he is responsible for the massacre of the Holy Innocents shortly after the birth of Jesus.

Could St. Mary Magdalen have anything to do with this? Although speculation at best, some are inclined to think so. Although somewhat interesting, this does lacks historical authority, unless you consider the Da Vinci Code and the Gnostic Gospels to be credible sources. But then again the Revelations of Catherine Emmerich offer some insights into this.

Magdala was a wealthy fishing village on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. A town of only 3,000 inhabitants, Magdala’s wealth came from the fish caught there, which were then dried, salted, and exported. Fish as food had no kosher restrictions, so it was a popular commodity. According to the Talmud, Magdala was so wealthy its tributes to Jerusalem were conveyed by wagons.

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For Jews the word ‘Magdala’ denoted a woman with loosed or plaited hair – in plain words, a harlot. Magdala the town had a reputation as lurid as its name. According to the Talmud, Magdala was destroyed by the Romans for its perversity (the Jewish War may have had something to do with it too). One thousand years later medieval writers interpreted ‘Magdala’ as ‘tower’ (from the Hebrew migdal). There were towers in Magdala that were spared by the Romans when they razed the town. One of the towers was the home of Mary of Magdala (or the Magdalene, as she is more commonly known).

Mary was born in a tower of a castle owned by her parents. When they died she inherited the castle and lived there at least until her conversion to Christianity. Mary’s parents were wealthy and influential, owning large properties in Magdala, Jerusalem, and Bethany, a suburb two miles south of Jerusalem. Mary‘s siblings, Martha (the oldest) and Lazarus, inherited the Jerusalem and Bethany estates.

As for Mary’s lineage, some say her parents were Cyrus and the Jewess Eucharia. Others believe Mary’s father was Theophilus, a rich Syrian prince. Little else is known about them. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich was a visionary mystic of the Augustinian Order. She saw Eucharia as such a devout Pharisee that she converted her husband. Then they both led pious, even severe lives, against which young Mary rebelled.

According to Father Bruckberger, however, Mary’s parents were Sadducean and their devotion was to the enlightened ideas of their day: Greek Hellenism, a philosophy given to Israel by Alexander the Great.

As Mary of Magdala entered adulthood, the ideal of virtue espoused by Greek philosophers had devolved into an infatuation with sensuality and the human body as expressed in sports, dance, and (to the horror of pious Jews) naked gymnastics. It was believed Wisdom was a reflection of the beauty of the human form, and was nourished through rich food, fine clothes, and satisfying sexual appetite. Wisdom and purity were separated.

The occupying Romans proved as adept at practicing Hellenism as some Jews, like King Herod Antipas, who held decadent court in Tiberias. In addition to dances and feasts, his court contained numerous courtesans – well bred, beautiful ladies who used their bodies to secure social standing, political influence, and, it was thought, wisdom.

It is more likely that the Magdalene was a courtesan than a street prostitute. She was born into wealth, property, and influence. Given what we know about her parents and siblings, Mary was almost surely intelligent and talented. All legends about her agree on one other point – she was very beautiful. Blessed Sister Emmerich described her as:

“taller and more beautiful than the other women…robust, but yet graceful. She had very beautiful, tapering fingers, a small, delicate foot, a wealth of beautiful long hair, and there was something imposing in all her movements…”

In short, she was a young woman accustomed to privilege, who from an early age was exposed to all that was good and refined in life. It is doubtful Mary ever traveled in common circles.

She may have even adorned Herod’s court in Tiberias (named after the reigning Roman emperor), only three miles away from Magdala. Herod built the city Roman style, with a stadium, baths, temples to the gods, theaters, and aqueducts. Since Tiberias was more Roman than Jewish, and since a Jewish cemetery was desecrated during its construction, Herod had trouble populating his new city. Pious Jews considered Tiberias a monstrosity of impurity (they had a point). Herod eventually offered free land, which lured to Tiberias criminals and others for whom purity was not a preoccupation.

Given her social standing, her beauty, and her proximity to Tiberius, Mary of Magdala may well have been invited there by Herod himself. The power, pomp, and brazen decadence would have been difficult to resist. Some theorize Mary was at Herod’s palace when the head of John the Baptist was brought in on a platter, and that the saint’s blood played a role in Mary of Magdala’s conversion to Christianity. - Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Traditionally Catholics have identified St. Mary Magdalen with the "woman in the town who was a sinner" of Luke 7:36ff. But if indeed she did have ties to the court of Herod, would make sense that the Pharisees would have desired that Jesus would have got Mary of Magdalene stoned to death! After which all they would have to do is tell Herod that Jesus had Mary Magdalene condemned to death!

Whatever the reasons for the Herodians had for desiring Jesus’ death, they were not of a genuine love of Our Savior.

Remember well that during Jesus’ trial, both Herod and Pilate became friends!

Ultimately, Jesus certainly posed a political rival to the viewpoint of the Herodian’s political powers.

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  • I think you've conflated Herod the Great (the one who tried to kill Jesus as a baby) with his son Herod Antipas (who had John the Baptist executed). But let me know if I've misunderstood Jun 3 at 18:10
  • @HoldToTheRod I do not think so, it is like setting the stage! It is all part of the political situation of the times! That is the point I am making here. Surely the Herodias remembered such facts.
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 3 at 18:59

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